I’ll probably get myself in trouble with this one.  I’ve not formally studied design nor Japanese philosophy, but here goes anyway.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese design element/philosophy that essentially finds beauty in the imperfections of an object.  Those imperfections can be a result of use or result from the making of the object.  At first blush, this sounds like a great excuse to be sloppy in your work.  It’s not quite that simple though.

Most woodworkers, especially hand tool woodworkers, are familiar with the concept, but not aware of the term.  Most of us like the textures and idiosyncrasies that result from using hand tools.  In fact it is what typically defines the piece for most of us.  Things like an undulated surface left by the hand plane and slight variations in the angles of hand-cut dovetails spring to mind as examples.  Other examples include live edge slabs for table tops and the rough look of cut nails instead of the uniform look of mass-produced wire nails.  These can all be considered examples of wabi-sabi.

In its purest form wabi-sabi is unintentional.  It simply happens of its own accord without any planning or forethought.  Checks and splits that develope in a panel might be considered as an example.  How an individual works, their tools and workflow, can result in idiosyncrasies in the final product that can be considered examples of wabi-sabi as well.

IMG_2234Like I have with most things, I stumbled upon the concept of wabi-sabi by happenstance.  Through my interest in Japanese woodworking I kept tripping of the term and finally chased it down to see what it was all about and found that it applies loosely to my work in a few ways.  (This little book is worth a read)  If you have visited my blog before, you know that I have an affinity for texture.  Sometimes I stamp it in and other times I use the uzukuri to create a texture.  Both methods result in a wabi-sabi-ish outcome.  The stamps thaIMGP5336t I use are self-made and contain inconsistencies.  Those inconsistencies, combined with the randomness of the application, create a uniquely flawed surface with its own “beauty”.  The uzukuri method simply reveals the patterns of the wood grain.  Each piece is therefore unique and there is no way to duplicate any given outcome.  Even the kolrosing, particularly the free-form kolrosing, that I apply to some of my projects can be considered wabi-sabi-ish.  Each cut with the knife is slightly different from the last and combine to create patterns that are, once again, imperfectly “beautiful”.  I could go on, but I think you get my point.

So what and how does this apply to your woodworking?  If wabi-sabi is not supposed to be intentional and you really can’t use it as an excuse for mistakes, what good is it?  I see a lot of people write about how they want to emulate such and such or are striving for perfection.  I see sawing guides for dovetails to obtain exact uniformity.  I understand the why, but we live in a world filled uniformity and sameness.  Why create more?

I say embrace the idea of wabi-sabi.  Strive to create the best work that you possibly can, but embrace your individuality.  Let your uniqueness shine through.  Don’t try to force it, don’t even think about it, just enjoy the process of making and your wabi-sabi-ish beauty will magically be there in your finished project.

Greg Merritt

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Tenugui Hanger-Design Drawing

Just a quick followup to my posts on the tenugui hanger.  Mostly for my own record keeping, but there is the off chance that someone out there may want to make one of these for themselves.  Anyway, I worked up a drawing for the making of my tenugui hanger.


One thing to note…tenugui are mostly a standard width (330mm), although they do vary.  The point is that this layout should accommodate just about any standard tenugui, but you may want to verify fit before building anything.

Greg Merritt

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Japanese Art on a Hillbilly Budget-Part 2-Complete

tenugui_holder-000So the idea is to hang a tenugui on the wall as an art display.  When I purchase a new one, I’ll switch them out and put the previous one into service.  I didn’t invent anything here, there are tenugui hangers commercially available, but I wanted to make my own.  I also wanted to make it to my own vision.  That’s why I’m a woodworker after all.

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Japanese Art on a Hillbilly Budget-Part 1

tenugui_holder-000I’ve wanted to write about something for a while.  It has nothing to do with woodworking and is somewhat frivolous, so I kept putting it off.  Finally I have a tie-in with woodworking and I feel a little better about writing about it.

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Old Fan Gets a Retro Makeover 

If you have been reading my blog for a while then you know that we moved into a new-to-us house last summer.  You may also remember that it was a one-owner home and retained most of its original detailing.  If you paid close attention, you may also know that management and I decided to run with the vintage theme of the house.  Now if you really have been paying attention, then you know that I keep finding stashes of wood in the attic, pine, maple and mahogany.  Continue reading

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Cedar Chest Facelift

As soon as the headboard was installed, upholstery project #2 became evident.  There is a cedar chest/bench that sits at the foot of our bed and management wanted it to match the new headboard.  The chest is a family piece from management’s side.  Not particularly old and I have a few issues with the construction, but it is solid enough.  So I drug it out to the shop. Continue reading

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headboard_queen-000So as I was installing the freshly minted side tables/nightstands, management begins rattling off a list of my “next” projects.  She is getting a little carried away and if she is not careful the Hillbilly Daiku will be coming to you under new management.😉

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